Back in the "Mad Men" days, a trade organisation known as the Tea Council of the USA celebrated the beverage its members sold with ads that carried the theme "Take tea and see."
The campaign promoted hot tea as much for its positive qualities as for its benefits compared with coffee. A television commercial declared: "This is tea. steaming, hot, hearty, delicious, invigorating. The lift that leaves you with a nice warm glow." And a print ad proclaimed, "Tea psyches you up."
Decades later, the leading American tea maker, Lipton, which is owned by Unilever, is going out on its own with ads that play up the traits of hot tea rather than making comparative claims against coffee.
The campaign, by DDB New York, seeks to generate interest in the flagship Lipton product of black tea in bags packed in yellow boxes, which has been overshadowed by newer Lipton offerings like green tea, tea in pyramid-shaped bags, herbal tea, iced tea and ready-to-drink tea.
The Lipton campaign, now getting under way, urges consumers to "Drink positive" — not to be confused, presumably, with a corporate image campaign from the Coca-Cola Co. that urges consumers to "Live positively." In addition to the ads, there will be changes that include making the Lipton shade of yellow brighter.
Reflecting the changes since "Take tea and see" was seen during the 1950s and 1960s, the Lipton ads also have a robust presence in new media as well as in traditional media like television. The campaign appears online, at liptontea.com, and in social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Executives at the Unilever United States division are calling the campaign the first extensive effort in this country to be devoted to Lipton black tea since 1989. On the face of it, the absence of such ads does not seem to have harmed Lipton's status as the American tea market leader.
For the 52 weeks that ended on December 2, according to the SymphonyIRI Group in Chicago, Lipton led the $1.16 billion category of tea sold in bags and loose, at $265.5 million; followed by Bigelow, at $117.7 million; and private label brands, at $85.6 million. (SymphonyIRI data includes outlets like supermarkets, drugstores and mass-market retailers, along with select club and dollar stores.)
But the executives at Unilever United States and DDB New York say they need to take a longer-term view when it comes to black tea, particularly when it involves the consumers in their 20s and 30s, known as millennials, who represent the product's future.
The executives describe the millennial target audience as "life embracers," he added, who are "very active, connected to popular culture and have hectic lives."
"All the benefits in our Lipton black tea give them a pause and the uplift they're looking for," Vivian said, which is being encapsulated in a "brand philosophy, positivism" and underlined with entreaties in the campaign to "Uplift your day" with Lipton black tea.
That approach is epitomised in a television commercial that begins appearing this week, on shows like "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and "Saturday Night Live." In the spot, which sports a yellow tint, a millennial woman drinks Lipton from a glass teacup as she works and hangs out with friends.
"This is me, this is my tea," a female voice says. "I feel more inspired, more positive." A male announcer chimes in: "Only Lipton adds fresh-pressed tea leaves to its great-tasting blend. Drink new Lipton, and you'll be surprised how great you feel." The commercial ends with the words "Drink positive" appearing on screen along with a yellow box of Lipton black tea bags.
Research determined a need "to reappraise the Lipton brand," said Marina Zuber, international business director at DDB New York, part of the DDB Worldwide division of the Omnicom Group, and present it as one that would "stand for more positive values coming from the goodness of the tea."
"Lots of tea brands talk about their expertise or the origins of the tea or tea being comforting," Zuber said. But "Lipton is more about the uplifting feeling you get from the tea," she added, to reflect the "optimism, dynamism and looking on the bright side of life" that are emblematic of the so-called life embracers who are "younger than our current users."
In the last several years, ads for Lipton black tea in various countries carried themes like "Lipton tea can do that" and "A sip of inspiration."
The budget for the new campaign is estimated at more than $10 million. Unilever United States spent $5 million to advertise all types of Lipton tea bags in major media in 2011, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, compared with $9.9 million in 2010 and $3.8 million in 2009. Little or none of that spending, however, seemed to have been devoted to black tea; the focus was on green, iced and white.
More recently, in the first nine months of 2012, ad spending was minimal, Kantar Media reported, at $232,000, all of it for green tea. (Stuart Elliott/ The New York Times News Service)